Mind Games: Sounds of silence at a test match do not make for happy rugby spectators

2014-06-30 10:00

Watching the Springbok test against Wales at Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium in “silence” last week made me wonder if it was not time to go the whole hog and hook the referee up to stadiums’ sound systems.

By silence I don’t mean that the people who filled the stadium to about 60% of capacity were mute?(which they nearly were when Wales led 17-0 after 22 minutes),?but the fact that I could not hear the referee’s rationale for the calls he made.

There are those who might question why one might want to hear Steve Walsh.

But having recently watched so much Super Rugby on TV, it was an awkward sensation not knowing what was going on from an officiating perspective in a match filled with so much drama.

Wales had two players sent to the sin bin in the space of less than two minutes, the Boks had Flip van der Merwe marched off and there were two penalty tries,?the last of which allowed South Africa to snatch a controversial victory.

With each decision, the crowd became more puzzled, quite unlike watching on TV for, as it turned out, Walsh was giving lucid explanations for his actions.

He had warned the Welsh about collapsing mauls, he did say he was quite prepared to go for a second yellow card and he told Welsh skipper Alun Wyn Jones exactly why Liam Williams’ desperate shoulder charge, which prevented Cornal Hendricks from scoring, was a penalty try and not just a penalty.

SuperSport commentator Bob Skinstad was right on to it but those of us in the stands had to wait and then react when the referee jogged to the posts?– Springbok fans in joy and relief, and Welsh ones in anger and despair.

The TMO has become so much a part of rugby that one almost expects there will be a referral when a try is scored. TMO, of course, refers to “television match official”, meaning officials have a chance to review footage to arrive at a decision (still too often the wrong one) but the keyword is ‘television’?–you have to be watching on TV to share in the postmortem.

Perhaps it is time to follow the example of American football and mike up the referee and amplify his voice so the crowd can hear what he is saying rather than being puzzled by shaking heads and gesticulations from the players.

In this age of instant communication, it makes no sense to blank out the spectators but then, it being rugby, I have to concede it might lead to angrier reactions than the ones we see from time to time.

The Mbombela test contained a key passage which illustrated that even with the help of the camera’s eagle eye, officials get it wrong. Wales prop Samson Lee has been handed a five-week ban for head-butting Van der Merwe.

Given some of the punishments that have been handed out?(five weeks is quite hefty),?the disciplinary officer must have viewed the transgression in a serious light.

The incident happened in the 44th minute near the Springboks’ goal line but in spite of Victor Matfield’s protestations, it was not looked at again.

At 45:20, Ken Owens scored Wales’ third try. It was awarded by TMO Glenn Newman of New Zealand in spite of the replay clearly showing the hooker had come up short and rolled the ball over the line rather than placing it?– in other words, it was a knock-on.

In the 58th minute, the officials got it wrong again. Van der Merwe, adding weight to his nickname Geel Flippie, was thrown into the sin bin.

The video evidence showed that Jones had been tipped over in the air by one of his team-mates and there was a case to be made that the big Bok had taken evasive action to stop a boot hitting him in the face.

The sequence of events could have been quite different if referee Walsh had responded to Matfield and checked whether there had been a head butt.

And there might well have been had the crowd, by hearing the exchange, added their voices.

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